Lawmakers on Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights have lashed out at Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for allowing telecom companies to import into the country counterfeit airtime services that expire.
This followed a concern raised by Tarsis Rwaburindore (Ibanda Municipality) who tasked the Commission to explain why Ugandans still suffer with expired airtime and data bundles.
“For my phone, I normally buy bundles which are monthly and sometimes I have units when the months ends and I lose, why should I lose them with airtime,” he asked.
UCC had been summoned to respond to concerns raised in the 2018-2021 report by Uganda Human Rights Commission, that detailed a number of human rights violations like lack of access to information due to poor telecom and broadcast coverage across the country as well as quality of services in the sector.
While responding to the concern, Abdu Waiswa, Head Legal and Compliance at UCC informed Parliament that data bundles expire because internet is a product that is imported by the service provider in Uganda and when the Telecoms go to buy the data, they negotiate deals which determine the nature of bundles that will be sold and most cases, the expired data bundles are sold cheaper than the ones without an expiry date.
He explained, “So the deal that will allow this bundle to expire in most cases is given at better terms than the one that is open. And because these operators also buy such bundles, they also structure it in a way that allows them market to it to the customers either to buy the expired or open bundle. Our biggest issue is now to sensitise consumers that when you are choosing which bundle to buy, you choose the one that suits your interests.”
Fox Odoi, Chairperson Human Rights Committee however rejected the explanation given comparing the mandate of UCC to that of Uganda National Bureau of Standards, arguing that the standards body can’t simply allow importation of sub-standards goods into the country just because they are cheaper, something UCC should emulate.
“You also shouldn’t permit the importation of sub-standard services into the country that are sub-standard. This is the position of the Committee. We take the view that bundles that expire are substandard. I have paid for a volume, I haven’t exhausted the volume that I bought from you and the service is taken, you shouldn’t allow that,” said Odoi.
Baatom Koryang (Dodoth East) also weighed into the debate wondered why UCC was fronting the interests of the Telecom companies, at the expense of Ugandans remarking, “UCC should be working primarily for the good of Ugandans not the companies. We need the services, but we need services which are fair to the people, you can’t allow in services just because they are cheaper but one that is better for Ugandans. The option is for you to tell these companies that there is a wider outcry from Ugandans.”
Not to be outdone with defending the Telecoms for trading in expired bundles, waiswa replied telling MPs that whereas the cost of production has increased in all sectors of production, the Telecom sector hasn’t been spared yet the increment hasn’t been witnessed in services provided by the Telecoms.
“The cost of calling and data has actually been going down. These telecom services are being provided through towers that are fueled with diesel, the cost of diesel has gone up. We recognize that the operators must be given a leeway to make some margin,” said Waiswa.
During the interface, Susan Atengo Director Legal accused media owners and practitioners of ganging up against UCC each time Government attempts to make laws to regulate the media industry.
“The Commission has noted that several media practitioners want to operate without any regulation and whenever the regulator summons them to answer to any alleged breach of the law, they use their media space or platforms to politicize every intervention and make it appear to be an attack on their freedom of expression,” she said.